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Mark Steyn on Romney vs. McCain

Thursday, January 31, 2008
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HH: It’s Thursday, and we’re very lucky to begin this Thursday, as we do on most Thursdays, with Columnist to the World, Mark Steyn, author of America Alone. Mark, what did you think of last night’s debate?

MS: I was incredibly unimpressed by John McCain. You always hope his primary victories might bring out the more graceful side of him. But in fact, he seemed rather sort of small and mean in his general outlook last night.

HH: There was a number of exchanges I want to talk to you about specifically. Let’s start with the global warming exchange. First of all, Senator McCain asserted that we’re causing it, secondly, he wants the cap in trade, which is an enormous burden, and then there was Romney’s response. What did you make of that exchange, Mark Steyn?

MS: I think essentially, he’s drunk the Kool-Aid on global warming, and what is consistent in John McCain’s political philosophy, and it’s actually quite hard to figure out, but what is consistent is that he generally favors a big government regulatory approach to whatever the issue is. And this is why I would prefer Mitt Romney, who at least exists in the real world. I frankly think that John McCain has become explicitly anti-business, and the global warming racket is basically just a feature of that.

HH: Now he said a couple of times last night I served for patriotism, not profit.

MS: Yes.

HH: This has rankled a lot of nerves in the blogosphere, and I think at large, because it seems to be anti-capitalist.

MS: Yes, and it rankled with me, too. And I said on National Review that the United States military spends more than the next 35-40 highest spending countries on the planet combined. In other words, not just more than Britain and China and Russia and France, but all the way down to itsy bitsy little nothing fourth-tier militaries, spends more than the next 35-40 biggest military spenders combined. It’s American dynamism and American capitalism that pays for that. It’s American entrepreneurial energy that ensures the military has the best weapon systems. I think he’s setting up this false choice between a man who chooses to put on a uniform, and a man who chooses to go out and create a company. Both of them are necessary to have a successful functioning society, because if you don’t have big capitalist companies, then your army is going around macheteing people to death, as they are in various ramshackle African basket cases.

HH: Mark Steyn, a lot of shaking heads in the Spin Room yesterday, where I broadcasted from, after the Giuliani endorsement, because Rudy was great, and then Senator McCain got up there and looked bleached out, tired, didn’t stay very long, and then I think he kind of stumbled through the debate. Do you expect the Democrats to use the age issue on John McCain in a ferocious sort of way?

MS: Yes, I think they will. And I think they’ll do it in the same way. I don’t think he is a Bob Dole, by the way, for various reasons. But I think they will do it in the same way they did to Bob Dole, which is to say oh, this is a great man who served his country for many, many, many decades, but in a sense, his time has passed, and we need someone younger and with more energy. And I think there will be a lot of that. And there are times when McCain can just seem tired and out of it. I don’t think the age issue is legitimate. On the whole, I’m more suspicious of young candidates like Barack Obama. But I’ve no doubt the media are going to use it against McCain.

HH: Now there is an ad playing in California. I just saw it, from Citizens United for something or other, in which Hillary morphs into John McCain. It’s very clever.

MS: (laughing) Okay.

HH: …voted against the Bush tax cuts, you know, worried about global warming, mentioned as John Kerry’s running mate…

MS: Right, right, right.

HH: Does Mitt Romney have a chance here?

MS: Well, I’m not sure about that. I do think the ad is right. I mean, whatever it is, Citizens United, I believe I’m the New Hampshire chair for Citizens United for something or other.

HH: (laughing)

MS: But I mean, they’re right. This, this election, the policies that McCain and Hillary agree on, it would be like those elections they have a lot in Europe, where a very mildly left of center party runs against a very mildly right of center party. And in Austria, for about forty years after the Second World War, the mildly left of center party and the mildly right of center party governed as a coalition. It was basically a two party one party state. And when you look at Hillary and McCain, you do get the feeling that we’re not quite at a one party state yet, but it’s basically a one and a half party state on the presidential end.

HH: Robert Novak reported this morning that John Fund’s reporting earlier in the week that John McCain was unenthusiastic about Sam Alito was in fact true, despite McCain’s denials.

MS: Yeah.

HH: And of course, McCain attacked Romney on the Iraq timetable issue, despite many people from center, left and right blasting McCain for dishonesty in that.

MS: Right.

HH: Does any of this have an impact on an independent voter, although it may help the conservative voters, does it have an impact on an independent moderate voter?

MS: I’m not sure he can do enough of that before he sews up the nomination. But I think the worry is here, is he’s reckless. He’s loose-lipped. That’s why journalists like him, because they’re used to these antiseptic PC modern American newsrooms. So they love to get on the bus, and John McCain shoots his mouth off. The problem is, he shoots his mouth off in public, too. He forgets himself…there was that incident, whatever it is now, seven or eight years ago, where he got up and delivered an appallingly bad taste Chelsea Clinton joke into a microphone before an audience. And at a slightly lesser degree than that, he’s always, he, I think, is reckless when he starts shooting his mouth off about the issues as well, also damning his opponents as foolish. It’s the contempt for people who disagree with him that I think is another problem that will emerge if he gets the nomination, and he’s then living in national exposure until the November election.

HH: Now you said he is not Bob Dole. What did you mean by that, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, I mean, I think in a sense, Bob Dole was a very collegial, Senatorial, non-ideological type of person. I personally found Bob Dole a very funny guy in a sort of darkly ironic way. You didn’t see a lot of that on the campaign. He was not a good campaigner. I think McCain is a much better campaigner, but he has something that Bob Dole didn’t have, which I do think is potentially dangerous, and that is this thin-skinned vanity, which I would be surprised the fact he would withstand the scrutiny of a six-month general election campaign.

HH: I want to play for you a clip from Charley Rose last night. It involves Joe Klein of Time Magazine and Jonathan Alter of Newsweek discussing Romney, McCain and Mike Huckabee. Let’s play it.

CR: If Huckabee would drop out, would he go with McCain?

JK: Yes, but I think…

CR: Because he always talks about how much he likes him.

JK: He’s doing McCain a huge favor right now by staying in, because…

CR: It keeps him from…

JK: Because in states like Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, he could be the winner there, and or prevent Romney from winning those states. So he’s serving a valuable function, and lobbying very hard to be future vice president.

HH: What do you think about that, Mark Steyn? Is Joe Klein correct?

MS: Yes, I think so. I think clearly, Huckabee has been playing the wing man, or whatever you want to call it, to McCain in the last few weeks. And I would be surprised if he was doing that without at least some kind of exploratory discussions about being the vice presidential guy. And actually, being the vice presidential half of the ticket, when the presidential nominee is 71, is not an unattractive position to be in. It’s entirely possible that if McCain were to run and win in November, he might only be a one-term president, and this could be the best thing that ever happened to Mike Huckabee. But there’s no doubt that Mitt Romney’s getting sort of squeezed in a pincer operation.

HH: Now obviously, all day today, beginning with Laura Ingraham, running through Rush Limbaugh, it will go on on this program, Sean Hannity all but, I think he actually endorsed Mitt Romney today…

MS: Right.

HH: And Mark Levin has as well. Is that enough to turn tides in certain places, and confront conservatives with the choice they face, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, you know, you’ve taken a lot of heat for this for weeks now, and people have been saying you were in the Romney tank too early, and all the rest of it. I think that the question is, when you see the big field, when it’s an eight or ten candidate field before the New Hampshire primary, that’s the opportunity to decide who is the conservative, the most conservative candidate, who is likely, plausibly, to have a shot at winning. And you reached your conclusions with Romney. A whole lot of other people didn’t, and I think they’re sort of coming to the field a bit late in the game now. I mean, these things would have been a lot more helpful if it hadn’t been just as part of an anyone but McCain game. So I think in a way, you know, Romney has problems. But I would feel far more comfortable supporting a Romney candidacy than a McCain candidacy, which I think will be deeply difficult for the Republican Party.

HH: Now with a minute left, I see that Private Members Motion M-446 was introduced today by a liberal.

MS: (laughing) Right. That’s right. God bless the Liberal Party of Canada. This guy, Dr. Keith Martin, who’s a member of Parliament in Canada, a liberal member of Parliament, has introduced a private members bill to get scrapped Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Code, which is the hate provision under which my magazine is being charged up there. And God bless him. I’m on his side. And I hope a lot of Canadians are. I don’t want to get too parliamentary on you, but sometimes, there are advantages to the parliamentary system, even if John McCain isn’t the nominee.

HH: I will go and find Dr. Martin sometime next week. Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, www.steynonline.com, America. Get a copy of America Alone, subscribe to Macleans Magazine.

End of interview.

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